News broke last week that on Holy Saturday this year, the Vatican hosted a group of transgender people for Covid-19 vaccinations at the personal invitation of Pope Francis.
Some 50 people from a parish near Rome were vaccinated at the Vatican on April 3rd. Among the recipients were transgender individuals who had been receiving care from the pastor of Blessed Virgin of the Immaculate Parish, Fr. Andrea Canocchia, during the pandemic. Religion News Service (RNS)reported:
“It has already been reported that [Pope] Francis had asked [papal almoner Cardinal Konrad] Krajewski last year to provide food and financial support to members of the community who were struggling without work due to the pandemic. But as Easter approached this year, Krajewski reached out to Conocchia suggesting that he bring the transgender individuals under his care to the Vatican to be vaccinated. . .
“The group also included volunteers working at Canocchia’s parish, as well as immigrants and refugees under the care of the Community of St. Egidio, a Catholic aid organization, as well as struggling families and divorced parents supported by the Catholic charity Caritas.”
Further details on the vaccination clinic’s inclusion of trans patients were provided by Juan Carlos Cruz, a gay man who serves on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. In response to Vatican officials’ initial hesitancy at vaccinating trans people, Cruz quoted the pope as saying “Absolutely vaccinate them!” and requested that clinicians “do not ask them about their sex.”
Fr. Canocchia described the impact this papal welcome and the care provided had:
“‘It was truly Easter,’ Canocchia told RNS on Friday (July 2), calling the occasion ‘a day of life and resurrection’ for his community. . .
“The transgender men and women reacted with ‘surprise’ and ’emotion’ to the experience of entering the Vatican for the vaccination, Canocchia said, adding that many of them are undocumented and unable to access Italy’s free healthcare services.
“‘They were moved to tears and felt remembered, having experienced once again and in a tangible way the closeness and tenderness of the pope’s charity,’ he said. . .
“For Canocchia, the closeness of Francis proves that ‘the church is a part of the people, whoever they are. For us they have value. They are a noun, not an adjective.'”
As noted in the RNS report, early in the pandemic last year, the pope dispatched Cardinal Krajewski, his almoner, to serve the trans community, many of whom were not only undocumented migrants but were sex workers, that had gathered around Fr. Canocchia’s parish. But when the media picked up the story, Krajewski said it should not make headlines that the pope had intervened to help marginalized people because it is just “ordinary work for the Church.” Notably, Francis has praised repeatedly the work of religious serving transgender people, too.
Transgender-negative missives and statements from church leaders are increasing, especially in countries like the U.S. where anti-trans discourse and legislation more broadly has gained prominence. Pope Francis himself has a somewhat mixed record when it comes to statements touching on questions of gender identity. But in this instance of vaccinations, once again his pastoral inclinations realized concretely took precedence over theory. His instruction for clinicians not to ask intrusive questions about a person’s gender when providing care is especially notable. It models for pastors that simply welcoming all is insufficient; pastors must be attentive to the particular needs people have, too.
—Robert Shine, New Ways Ministry, July 8, 2021